Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Encounters With Animals: Snow Geese at Middle Creek

I've previously written about observing the snow goose migration in NJ with my friend Pastor Chris. That was just a warm up for what I saw two weeks later at Middle Creek.

Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is located on the border of Lebanon and Lancaster Counties, and
in the middle of the flight path of the Canada Goose, the Tundra Swan, and the Snow Goose. The bird numbers at the peak of migration are enormous - this year the count was sixty thousand birds. And that was one day. The photo to the right is from the website of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, managers of Middle Creek, and well deserves its title of "Winged Chaos."

Having seen the snow geese in New Jersey, I wanted to see them in PA. But the horrible winter weather interfered for both myself and the geese. The birds don't migrate in cold weather. Roads were bad, the interior road system at Middle Creek was impassible, and standing for hours in sub-freezing weather didn't appeal to me. But by the middle of March we had a respite. The temperatures warmed up and the geese began moving. By March 11 the Waterfall Migration Update on the Game Commission website listed sixty thousand birds and noted "It's on."

My friend Dan Glass gave me advise on what to do and what to expect. "Don't fool around. Be there at dawn" he said. While he suggested a weekday visit, my schedule only allowed a trip on a weekend. Dan posted a video to YouTube from his visit on Friday March 14, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=559VRdxtcTk, and it shows the "swirling" he told me I would see when I visited.

I followed Dan's advice, and arrived bleary-eyed at 6:30 AM to Middle Creek. I found the parking area for
Willow Point, the prime observation area, and snared one of the last parking spots. The half-mile hike on the paved Willow Point Trail was an easy walk, and would have been quiet if it weren't for the noise of roosting birds. Since Middle Creek Lake was frozen over, the birds were roosting on the ice in the middle of the lake. At Willow Point itself fifty people had gathered, setting up cameras with enormous lenses, clutching thermoses full of coffee, shivering in the cold, and waiting on the birds' next move.

And the birds did move. While I couldn't capture good images of the birds swirling, I spent two hours watching and photographing the migration. Wave after wave of snow geese, along with the solitary tundra swan, filled the sky. Nature is majestic.

By nine AM the hours of standing, and being up early, was taking a toll on me. So I left Willow Point and drove to the Visitor Center, and from there I followed the driving tour of the park. This was the first day the park roads were open, and while there were patches of snow and ice the driving was generally easy. The views of the birds were good, although not as good as at Willow Point.

I left Middle Creek at ten AM, heading for home tired but amazed at what I'd seen. I was glad I didn't let the cold or other matters interfere with my seeing one of the grandest spectacles of nature.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Backpacking Project

My childhood heroes were outdoorsmen. Lewis and Clark, John James Audubon, Daniel Boone, the various men and women in Jack London's stories.... Later, as a formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors, I thrilled to the exploits and writing of John Muir, Nessmuck, and more Appalachian Trail hikers than I can remember.

But while I could read about them, I never thought I could emulate them. My back was in such bad shape I never thought I could carry a backpack. Yes, I can ride a bike and have the bike carry my gear, but that's not quite the same, and while "bikepacking" is wonderful, its restrictive compared to backpacking.

The shape I was in prevented me from carrying weight on my back, and that shape was the letter "S." The photo to the right is from my first metric century bike ride, in Delaware in June 2007. I'm a little older, a little heavier, and a lot more straightened out since my knee replacement. I'm also a little wiser, and less likely to be discouraged. So, since I have friends who keep telling me I can backpack and they want me to go with them, I thought I'd take a test hike with a loaded pack. So yesterday I headed out.

The location was Warwick County Park. The distance, two miles. The pack is an Outdoor Products "Skyline" model, a sort of entry level interior framed pack. I partly filled it with clothes, a couple of water bottles, camera, batteries, and a couple of Pop-tarts. I pulled on the pack, grabbed my hiking poles, and headed out.

The experience wasn't quite what I expected. People with scoliosis have horrible posture unless they work at it. I slouch too much. I'm too "head forward", and on a climb I really look like I'm leaning into the hill. The weight of the pack seemed to straighten me out a bit. I felt I slouched less. Because I was alone I don't have a decent photo of the pack on me, so I can't show how it fit or ask if I was wearing it correctly. That will have to wait until I'm hiking with somebody.

At the end of the two miles I felt tired and I had some slight feeling of strain in my shoulders, upper back, and
middle back. But not a great deal of strain. And I feel tired but mobile this morning. I think I might be able to backpack after all. While I may never hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, I feel confident I can get to the point short distance overnight and three day trips are possible. I will keep you informed how I'm progressing on this project to turn me into a backpacker. See you on the trail!


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-04-06

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A Taste For The Woods